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OPINION: Term Limits For Speaker, Pro Tempore...Not A Bad Idea

by Maylon Rice | May 26, 2021 at 5:25 a.m.

Loosen the term-limits on state legislators as Arkansas voters did in the November General Election, and what happens?

They want to stay in office – now, it seems - forever.

And that's just along the latest from the goings on down at Little Rock.

Republican Speaker of the House, Matthew Shepherd of El Dorado, this past week, in a letter to House members is asking for re-election, again, to the top post in the group of 100 state representatives.

Can this be a good thing?

Or can this advance solicitation be a bad thing?

Depends upon who you ask.

Most members of the Arkansas House (A) simply do not want to run for Speaker, or and most importantly (B) do not own the skill set to be the Speaker of the House and its oversight and planning day-to-day duties.

Nor do many of those 100 House Members actually want that job.

But if you ask Speaker Shepherd, as he just has asked himself standing in front of a mirror in his home – surely he deserves another term at Speaker.

This will be an unprecedented term in the long and convoluted history of the lower chamber of Arkansas law-making.

There has never, ever been a three-term Speaker of the House.

And to Shepherd's credit, there have been five other two-term speakers of that legislative body – with Shepherd taking on the sixth spot of a two-term speaker two years ago.

But again, since 1836 and the formation of the Arkansas General Assembly, there has never been a three-term Speaker of the House.

While few members of the 100-member House will politically denounce the idea of a third term, thankfully, one member from Northwest Arkansas will – that is state Rep., Gayla Hendren McKenzie, R-Gravette, a "legacy" member of the House.

"Three terms (as Speaker of the House) are too much," she said in the state's largest newspaper this past week. McKenzie has also criticized the Speaker and the House Rules in a speech to a Republican women's group recently. She was speaking of the Speaker's power to place legislation with committees the speaker felt appropriate and also to place bills on the House calendar for consideration. All of these are by House Rules offer overseen and often changed from Speaker to Speaker through the years.

McKenzie has made it clear she wants to see another candidate emerge or run for Speaker of the House.

And then she made it ever clearer that a change needs to be made,'

"If nobody else will," she told the newspaper, "I'll consider running (for Speaker)."

Other veteran House members were non-committal in the Speaker seeking a third term.

A few said they might consider running, such as state Rep. Robin Lundstrum, R-Elm Springs. But all acknowledge the preparation, time and oversight as Speaker actually leaves very little time to propose bills and work individual legislation, like a regular state representative.

A good legislator would be wasted, spending most of his or her time presiding over the House, assigning accommodations for out-of-town House members or settling petty squabbles between legislators.

And then, there is a constant call from the Governor's office to discern where the House is headed with legislation. Or the constant whine for help in political races out in the state from literally every elected office.

To Speaker Shepherd's credit, he has done what he promised. There were no glaring ethical violations in this year's House membership. The Legislative agenda moved along with only one slight hitch – the Hate Crimes legislation.

When the bills in the House and Senate seemed stalled and not able to pass, a much weaker bill emerged with both the Speaker and the State Senate's President Pro Tempore's blessing (along with that support from Gov. Asa Hutchinson) to pass both chambers and become law.

Three terms as Speaker may simply be too much to ask of the other 99.

But only the 100 member-House will elect the next Speaker, whomever that may be.


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